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Microsoft Security Essentials Beta Now Available

Once known as "Morro," Microsoft Security Essentials is the anti-malware component of Microsoft's subscription security service, Windows Live OneCare.

Microsoft on Tuesday released a beta version of Microsoft Security Essentials, the company's new free consumer security software.

Formerly known as "Morro," Microsoft Security Essentials is essentially the anti-malware component of Microsoft's subscription security service, Windows Live OneCare, without the utility applications and the $50 annual fee.

In November, Microsoft said that it planned to stop offering Windows Live OneCare to focus on a product that would serve consumers better. Windows Live OneCare will no longer be available as of next week.

Microsoft Security Essentials runs on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and the forthcoming Windows 7 operating system. It's designed to have a smaller footprint and to demand less computing power so it can be used on less-powerful PCs and in low-bandwidth situations. The result for consumers is likely to be a better use experience.

Alex Eckelberry, CEO of Sunbelt Software, a company focused on enterprise security, said he believes that Microsoft knows that it needs to make Windows more secure.

"The fundamental problem that I think Microsoft is trying to deal with is they have a huge PR problem against Apple and Linux," he said. "The fact that you're running Windows opens you up to more attacks because it's a better economic model for malware authors."

Eckelberry says that this is not because of any inherent flaw in Windows. Rather, he says, Windows users bear the brunt of malware attacks because there are so many of them. He says that 80% of online attacks involve social engineering, so Macs could be targeted just as easily, were the economic incentive there.

Microsoft Security Essentials "is really for personal use only," said Eckelberry. "On the enterprise side, you shouldn't be affected by this." However, for security vendors with a significant consumer footprint, he believes there's cause for concern. Consumer-oriented security companies, he says, will have to work harder to develop functionality not available from Microsoft.

There are signs that such companies are concerned already. In a blog post on Tuesday, David Harley, director of malware research for ESET, dismisses Microsoft Security Essentials as insufficient. "This isn't full-strength anti-malware (and is unlikely to be when it leaves the beta testing stage) any more than the Windows firewall is a full-strength firewall system, which means that it isn't going to render the anti-malware industry redundant," he said.

But what Microsoft's software may do is reduce the number of unprotected Windows PCs, leaving less low-hanging fruit for unskilled attackers.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on data-loss prevention. Download the report here (registration required).

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